Written by Adam Scott Mazer
Directed by Dan Rogers
In theory, zombies are among the figures from film best suited to the stage, so much of their appeal depending on lurching, menacing, awkward but unyielding physicality—and killer makeup. And the living dead are the real stars in AntiMatter Collective
's zombie-cowboy mashup Death Valley
at the Bushwick Starr
(through July 10), which lurches most stiffly in the scenes with only living characters. This has mostly to do with an uneven script, which at times knowingly and cleverly subverts the conventions of terse cowboy dialogue and hysteric zombie movie fear, but just as often deals at great lengths in frightfully familiar lines and plot twists.
Our human guides through Death Valley
are the charming but short-tempered bounty hunter Lawrence (Will Cespedes) and his on-and-off-again disreputable lady friend Adele (Alexandra Panzer), along with a rotating set of zombie-fied friends, acquaintances and enemies. Their only hope of escaping the advancing undead hordes lies a few dozen miles away at the closest train station, and all their companions—including scene-stealer James Rutherford as the wise-cracking Doc—are eventually turned against them. Last second rescues by a guilt-ridden Native American (Casey Robinson) and a ruthless cavalryman (Patrick Harrison), present other dangers, both real and perceived.
What the production struggles with most—all the while nailing the costume, sound and makeup design to evoke the late-19th century frontier setting—is whether to play the plot for comedy or drama. Or, rather, when
to do one or the other. The dialogue comes to life when the actors acknowledge and play on the inherent campiness of the zombie narrative and the stoic severity of the archetypal cowboy. Adam Scott Mazer proves good at balancing humor and a growing sense of dread and panic in the early going, but this slowly slips into overlong scenes of self-seriousness as the situation worsens. Though there are a few twists at the end, and two superbly weird dream sequences along the way, Death Valley
's talented cast loses most of its chemistry and dynamism long before the sun sets on this undead Western.
(Photo: Jessica Olm)